Sinclair on Tennis: Shooting for 80 Million Subs

BALTIMORE—Sinclair Broadcast Group executives said they looked at other cable networks, but that Tennis Channel had the most potential for growth.

“We looked at a number of other channels, but Tennis stood out. We wanted something that was underdistributed,” said Sinclair executive vice president Barry Faber.

Tennis Channel currently reaches 30 million subscribers. “We considered it closer to Golf Channel,” which has 80 million, Faber said. The Sinclair deal will put Tennis Channel in 20 million more homes, the broadcaster said.

“When you couple it with our relationship with the cable operators, they were more willing to add Tennis in negotiations,” Faber said.

The next big pay TV negotiation will be with the nation’s No. 1 carrier, Comcast. Faber said between that and a few gaps, Tennis should catch up with Golf “in the next three years or so.”

He also mentioned getting Tennis into digital basic channel territory on pay systems rather than the add-on sports tiers where it now commonly resides. Tennis has had a long-standing dispute with Comcast over being carried on a tier that costs extra while Comcast-owned Golf Channel is part of the basic digital package. The dispute, having made its way through the Federal Communications Commission and a federal court, remains ongoing.

Wells Fargo’s Marci Ryvicker said Tennis “incremental benefit should come from a different channel placement.”

She said that assuming a March 1 close on the deal, incremental revenue for this year should be between $95 million and $100 million, with EBITDA at $20 million and an uptick expected from additional carriage in the second half of this year and the first half of 2017.

Sinclair’s investors liked Tennis Channel and agreed that it was underdistributed, due in part to old contracts from when it was trying to get off the ground. First-time carriage deals can go for 15 to 20 years, Faber said. Tennis Channel launched in 2003. Carriage of the network now will be rolled into Sinclair’s retransmission consent negotiations, which are on a three-year lifecycle, Faber said.

Tennis controls U.S. TV coverage of the the sport with around 90 percent of the TV rights in the United States. The executives said Tennis Channel is complementary to ESPN’s coverage versus competitive. Ryvicker agreed.

“The Tennis Channel works in conjunction with the big sports networks to divvy up rights; it also sublicenses some of the big matches from ESPN such as the Australian and US Opens. This is a cost-effective way to compete in the space from a rights-fee perspective,” she wrote in an analyst’s note.

Tennis Channel Chairman and CEO Ken Solomon said “the bulk” of the network’s programming rights agreements were renewed “a few months ago.” These typically last from three to five years. Tennis renewed its 15-year relationship with the ATP World Tour last November. Throughout 2015, the ATP accounted for more than 600 live matches and more than 1,000 hours of coverage for Tennis. The renewed deal adds digital rights for all but four of the Masters 1000- and 500-level events.

Tennis also renewed with Tennis Australia earlier this month. The deal includes the Australian Open, which concludes Sunday, Jan. 31. Tennis Channel nailed down Apple TV as a streaming partner in time for the tournament,according to Multichannel News. Apple picked up Tennis Channel Plus, the network’s subscription-based over-the-top streaming package priced at $89.99 a year, also available on Amazon and Roku, and on iOS and Android devices.

Tennis Channel marks Sinclair’s second major foray into the world of sports programming. The TV station group launched the American Sports Network in mid-2014 with a lineup of NCAA conferences.

Asked if Sinclair was still on the hunt, Faber said, “We looked extensively through the cable network universe to find this acquisition. We’ve been looking at this cable strategy for quite some time. We’re not actively seeking new cable opportunities, but we look at everything [that comes along].”

January 27, 2016
Sinclair To Acquire Tennis Channel for $350 Million
The company has already negotiated agreements with a number of multichannel video programming distributors, which, following Sinclair’s acquisition, will increase carriage of Tennis from approximately 30 million homes to approximately 50 million homes.

July 17, 2014
Sinclair Launches Sports Network
Sinclair… has entered into comprehensive sports rights agreements with a number of NCAA Division I conferences including Conference USA, the Colonial Athletic Association, Big South Conference, Southern Conference and Patriot League.